Haikus about Mina's coughing

by Cara McDonough

Our dog Mina, as some lucky souls have experienced firsthand, sometimes exhibits a hacking cough. The cough, impossible to ignore, is the result of heart disease. Before you go feeling sorry for her, please note that thanks to hundreds of dollars worth of veterinary care and medications, her cough is managed very well, she is happy and pretty much doing better than all of us. Taking long naps in the sunny floor patches of our dining room. Stealing whole halves of sandwiches from helpless children because she is sneaky and quick.  

She is simply going to continue to cough from time to time, as well as need to be let out approximately one million times a day, thanks to her diuretic. So what you can do, is start feeling sorry for us. 

In order to cope, I took to poetry, which my father compared to the "deconstructive poetry of the modern nihilists, echoing despair which is the true reality of man." Definitely.   

Love you, kill you, what? 
Your coughing is so damn loud
Little dog Mina

Psychiatric care!
I can't live live this no more!
Emphysema sound

Watching Mina sleep
Love swelled, until I noticed
The urine leaking 

And one from Justin: 

A cough and a cough
And a hack that's mostly retched
Yet nothing comes out

Chickpea & Cavatelli Soup (recipe #1, January)

by Cara McDonough

So. I wasn't super adventurous this first month of recipe-trying. This was an pretty simple one, which I found on The Splendid Table website. But I wanted to get the ball rolling as it is mid-January and I'm not fluent in Spanish or anything yet. 

I liked this soup a lot, and it was even better the next day. The kids liked it too, although Nora outright refused to try a bean. To even put it on her tongue. So she worked around them. But I've recommitted lately to simply making a a meal for dinner and that's that. You don't get anything else, even if you are seven and very hungry and "do NOT LIKE BEANS! You KNOW I don't like them!" When Adriana was born I let things slip a bit, choosing to make life easier by not pushing the boundaries much as far as food was concerned. But I love food, and it's time to start experimenting again. Nora, you had it easy this month, but watch out. 

  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped 
  • 1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped 
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped 
  • 6 cups vegetable stock 
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed 
  • 8 oz. cavatelli 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high. Add celery, carrot, onion, and rosemary and cook until soft, 8–10 minutes. Add stock and chickpeas and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove half of chickpeas and purée until smooth; return chickpeas to pan. Add pasta and cook until al dente, 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with parsley and Parmigiano sprinkled on top.

To do (one year, ten goals)

by Cara McDonough in

As you know, I’m a big fan of to-do lists.

Personally, I like to write mine down in ink on paper; on the blank, waiting page of a notebook, or scrawled on Post-its that I stick to the edge of a table while I work. I like sharing them on this blog, too, as I have in the past, making lists of "summer goals" and having a lot of fun trying to complete them, then sharing the experience.  

I like to cross off completed tasks as I go. Sometimes I cheat, jotting down, “have coffee,” for instance, when I know full well I’m going to have coffee, list or no list.

But that's part of the fun. Mixing significant items with the not-so-significant is where I find the joy in this endeavor. Casual to-do lists, in their disregard for priorities, make big tasks less daunting, and elevate the little ones. I like seeing “take the recycling out” next to “work on a book proposal for one hour”; the juxtaposition seems to put everything in perspective.

Plus, you never know the stories that completing even a small task may yield. And completing a major task almost always means bettering your life in some significant and lasting way.

My first list of summer goals in 2010, for instance, included “go to Poland” (an easy addition as we’d already booked the trip), “see some fireworks” (piece of cake), “bake my own bread” (still haven’t done it) and directives to read a variety of books.

I did a fair job, completing about half of the to-do items on the admittedly overzealous list.

The best part, however, wasn’t the satisfaction I got crossing off completed items early that autumn, reveling in my successes. It was the stories that resulted when I forced my way out of the usual routine, making life a little bit – or a lot – more exciting.

Impulsively joining a walking tour of Yale one afternoon – instead of heading home to the normal domestic routine – was not only interesting, but exhilarating, as it reminded me that even as a parent I am allowed to do things purely for myself, and purely for the experience. I love historical tours (strange, because I did not enjoy history classes in high school or college) and learned a lot of interesting facts about New Haven. I happily checked “take a walking tour of Yale” off my list of 2010 summer goals. 

Running in a Labor Day road race that year – which required regular workouts throughout the summer – was so much more fun than my normal role of acting as my husband’s cheerleader and, since then, realizing how much more satisfying it is to be a participant than a spectator at these things, I’ve run in countless road races, including two 20Ks and one real half-marathon. That goal revived a hobby I've had since high school, but had let go of after becoming a mom. 

In 2014 I didn’t push myself too hard. I was pregnant and due in August, so figured “take a nap,” was a fair goal to add to the list; one I happily completed repeatedly, including midday snoozes with Gabriel in the weeks before Adriana was born.

We slept in my room, where we had an air conditioning unit installed in the window. Gabe and I would crank it up to borderline freezing, then shut the door and get under the covers. He’d been so grumpy, perhaps coming to grips with the new reality about to unfold, and I was so huge.  But those naps were a calming indulgence that broke up challenging days, and we still talk about them.

The point of all this reminiscing is that I've been thinking recently about how the goals I've made in years past have not only created intense and lasting memories, but also made my life better by reconnecting me to activities and ideas that were once - and are still - important to me. Maybe that means getting enough rest, getting more exercise, reading, writing or simply taking time out of the day to do something interesting. 

I don't think it's a bad thing to let your interests fade when you get older; so much gets in the way. In my case that includes having children, being married, working, owning a house, caring for my geriatric dogs who cannot, for the love of all that is holy, help but wait until I am sitting down at the very end of the day to whimper right in my face, reminding me that their water bowl is empty. 

Like I wrote in May, I've realized how easy it is to let yourself slip away when you have young children and more importantly, that if you don't work at it a little, you won't get those interests back. 

That's my life anyway. For you it could be a different scenario entirely, including keeping up with your interests well into adulthood; I'd like to hear suggestions on how you do it. Because I'm going to try something new in 2016.  

One year. Ten goals.

Each one is related to an interest or hobby I once had and have mostly lost -- or that I have halfheartedly maintained, but not as enthusiastically as in the past. 

"See a show" because I used to love discovering new music more than almost anything else. "Learn Spanish" because I'm actually pretty good at languages, and always wanted to learn another after taking many years of French in high school. "Try one new recipe every month" because I love food and cooking, but it's become such a chore. "Run a marathon" because I'm crazy. 

I don't feel the need to come up with a complicated explanation here regarding the importance of this endeavor. I'm an incredibly lucky person. I feel like I won the lottery when I look at my life. I love being a mother and while - yeah - I sometimes feel like I'm going to lose it if I have to make breakfast for one more ravenous little person, I adore being with my kids. I have fulfilling and exciting work. I have a supportive family. I'm healthy and optimistic. 

Yes, I feel like spending more time nuturing my interests will make me a better person in all of my various roles; I think women especially are quick to say that self-care is incredibly important, and are also quick to abandon it for seemingly more important tasks. 

But that's not exactly why. It's just that life has gotten so comfortable lately in it's strangely relentless way. It's not that we aren't busy. We are so busy. For me and J, the day begins before we even open our eyes in the morning. Someone's awake and needs a diaper or a walk or an explanation about how, yes, it IS morning even though it's still dark out, because that's what winter is like.

So it's easy to do what we need to do to get through each moment. Work and caring for our family are top priorities because you have to do that stuff. It's never, ever boring, but the easiest thing is to preserve our particular brand of frenzied momentum. It's easy to stay on autopilot. It's hard to make and sustain a change of pace. But I want to try. I know for a fact it will make life even better. 

I love New Year’s. I love the optimism, perhaps foolish yet heartening nonetheless.

Countless individuals greet January 1 with a steely certainty: “This is going to be my year,” they say. I’m often one of them.

Most of the time, it isn’t everything you’d hoped it would be. And that’s just fine.

But I think it’s best to go for it anyway.

Because every once in a while, it is.

To do, 2016

1. Read “Ulysses”

2. Volunteer

3. Run a marathon

4. Plan a party

5. Go to South America

6. See a show  

7. Learn Spanish

8. Try one new recipe every month

9. Apply to…?

10. Write a book

Notes on my afternoon coffee habit

by Cara McDonough

One of the joys of being in my mid-thirties (listen, I'm going to skip over "late thirties" as a term I use in relation to my age, despite the fact that 37-almost-38 is decidedly "late thirties) is that I'm more willing to face up to certain truths and realities than I used to be.

I've read plenty of essays and books in which women come to this exact realization, and I never thought much about it, except to silently acknowledge that this was an "old person situation" but, you know, good for these middle aged women and their willingess to "accept themselves." 

God. What a jerk. 

Because now - of course - I totally get it. While I wish I'd been someone who accepted themselves wholly as a teenager, I wasn't. I mean, most of us weren't. That's the beauty of being a teenager: insecurity in the face of constant temptation. Good luck!

But now, as a more experienced individual in her mid-thirties, as a mom of three kids, and with much less time to fool myself, it's simply easier to acknowledge who I am, and sometimes more importantly, who I am not going to be. 

I'm not talking about major personality traits or beliefs; those have been pretty solid throughout the years. I mean the daily habits, likes and dislikes that make up my day-to-day. 

I like yoga, for instance, but I'm not a someone who does yoga regularly and it's better to just let that go and stop stressing myself out by questioning my dedication to this totally beneficial practice that I was never dedicated to in the first place. 

There are lots of these. 

I'm a morning person and, on the flip side, hate staying up late.

I have a much better day if I talk to someone - anybody -  at least once, because I'm extroverted and don't do well all holed up by myself.

And I like to drink coffee. 

While I'm not a person who can drink coffee all day long, I like to have coffee in the morning and in the afternoon. This afternoon coffee, I have discovered, is the secret of life. 

Ok. Perhaps that's pushing it. But it is the secret of my life, or at least it's the secret of my life as a 37-year-old who has three young children. The way I'd describe my physical state by the hour of their bedtime is, well, not awesome. Kind of like I've been given a pharmaceutical-grade sedative, and then handed a super complicated test with both physical and mental components and told I have to complete it before I can lie down. 

Unless, you see, I have that afternoon coffee at exactly the right time. 

The right time is important. I'm tempted to have it early, say 1 p.m., right after lunch, but then the effects don't quite last long enough. Four p.m. or later and I might have a hard time falling asleep that night. 

Three in the afternoon seems to be the sweet spot for a caffiene boost - my preferred version is an almond milk cappucino or a black espresso, depending on my mood - allowing me to settle into our evening without the dread that accompanies anticipating the toothbrushing routine on non-afternoon-coffee days.

I've digressed, but my point is that I used to want to be the kind of person who could rally more naturally, maybe with the yoga that I never did, or with an energizing snack of green tea and dried fruit. Ridiculous. 

For me, it's coffee, at least twice a day. I've finally escaped the urge to try and be more like friends who can't have coffee late in the day, or get the jitters from just one cup. I love coffee, it's a perfectly acceptable crutch for me at this point in my life and I don't want to demonize something that I enjoy for no good reason, just like I don't want to discount any of the details that make me who I am, no matter how inconsequential they are. I mean, that's sort of the point. Part of the freedom that comes with being older is not spending energy worrying about things that aren't worth it. 

Not that I'm not going to worry about things that I shouldn't worry about, of course. Because that's part of who I am, too. Luckily my stress is easily resolved with a nice glass of wine, or by hashing it out with friends, two things I love. But not by taking a bath, which I very much like the idea of, but not the reality. The water is always too hot at first and then immediately too cold. No thank you. Life is way too short to live anything but your own personal truth.